This Actually Happened

The Republican audience, reminded of the 234 individuals executed during Rick Perry’s tenure as Texas governor, actually applauded:

This doesn’t strike me as a pro- or anti-death penalty issue. It’s one of basic human decency. Punishment — any punishment — isn’t a joyful answer to crime. It’s one to be dispensed solemnly, with cognizance that another’s life has to be ruined, whether by imprisonment or by death, for society’s benefit. I don’t expect Ned Stark (YouTube), but I do demand respect for lives taken.

That said, I don’t believe a reasonable man can support the death penalty in a world full of cases like Claude Jones’.


  1. Everyone is talking about this today so I’ll just copy and paste my comment from another blog

    “Yes, Pery got applause for his capital punishment record. I’m also 100% certain that President Obama has gotten applause for ‘protecting a woman’s right to choose’. Last year 46 Americans were executed in this country. Something like 1.3 million abortions were performed.

    Which round of applause is more distasteful?”

  2. Also, Ames – I was really hoping today’s post would use Hoffa’s ‘take the SOBs down’ remark at the Obama rally to allow you to post a backdoor criticism of the Right. Y’know, talk about how the remark was unfortunate but then contrast it with Republican remarks that were way worse. Then talk about how Hoffa basically couldn’t help himself in such an inflammatory political climate (created by the Right). Then give the Big O a pass for not condemning the harsh rhetoric used literally seconds before he took the stage because he is exempt from the John Boehner Leadership Clause that says political leaders must perform seppuku any time one of their peeps makes a distasteful remark.

    C’mon man – those posts practically write themselves. It seems like it would almost be like a blogging Mad Libs for you at his point.

  3. If the applause was for Perry’s virtuous defense of the death penalty, this post would not have been written. It was, instead, applause for the brutal fact of what that entails.

    Similarly, I would cheer President Obama’s defense of a woman’s right to choose. But if he stood up and said, “thanks to me, X,YZA fetuses were aborted!” I would not applaud. No-one would. It’s just not what we do. Unlike the portrait you paint of liberals, we approach abortion quite seriously. It, too, is a solemn decision, whether or not you think a bundle-of-cells is a life.

    We regularly confront concepts that allow an appropriate distance from harsh realities, and often take pride in those concepts, despite their cost. Like war. I’m proud that this country won World War II — but I’m not proud that we had to kill hundreds of thousands of men to do it. What Perry’s voters did was confuse the value of justice with its terrible, terrible price, and that’s truly appalling.

    The Hoffa line is almost too thin. But I don’t think it’s fair to automatically impute his sentiment to Obama — and there’s a difference between an intro speaker being crazy, and the candidate himself being crazy. Think of all the tea party candidates that scream about the need to “fix your bayonets to your rifle, and run into the enemy ranks,” or something, when they’re talking about the debt ceiling of all things. Jon Stewart noted a few of them yesterday.

    And, I think it’s shocking, and even sad, that Republicans will brutally defend their right to say crazy things, but then attack Hoffa not for his inconsistency with the Democratic “new tone” idea… but for saying crazy things. Some consistency and self-awareness, please.

    1. How immature does an audience (or this commentariat) have to be to only understand policy implications when hard numbers are involved?

      If President Obama says he will protect the right to choose for women the subtext will always be that he will protect a policy that permits 1.3 million abortions per year. There’s no geting around that.

      It’s really no different than if the President said he is proud of our efforts in Afghanistan. The subtext there is that he is is proud that our armed forces are levying the death penalty on thousands of Taliban fighters every year.

      What you are saying is that so long as we bury the realities of policy decisions in abstract rhetoric, applause is okay. As soon as someone is blunt about what that policy actually leads to, they are being distasteful. Those kinds of mental acrobatics are a fault of society, not something to take pride in.

  4. Maybe it’s a fault of society, but it’s what societies do. Every day we parse acts from implications, and whether and which implications of those acts you choose to focus on says a lot about you.

    For some examples:

    Kind: Congratulations on your new baby! You and your wife must be so proud.
    Creepy: It’s so awesome that you had unprotected sex nine months ago! I hope you hit. that. good. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about.

    Patriotic: this Memorial Day, I remember the sacrifices of my ancestor [fictional name], who fought against the British in the Revolutionary War.
    Ghoulish: Thank God [fictional name] shot seventy British men in the head, making orphans of their children and widows of their wives, so that we could stand here today.

    Congratulatory: I heard your final argument in the Bank 1 v. Bank 2 appeal; just brilliant stuff. What a great win for your firm.
    Sadistic: You really nailed Bank 2 in that argument. I heard that after you won they went bankrupt, putting 60 Americans out of a job. Awesome.

    Good advocacy: Your Honors, in Lawrence v. Texas the Supreme Court overruled Bowers, to hold that the states cannot constitutionally ban consensual sodomy.
    Really, really bad advocacy: Your Honors, in Lawrence v. Texas the Supreme Court overruled Bowers, to hold that the states cannot constitutionally stop two gay dudes from putting it to each other, whether in the mouth or up the butt.

    And finally:

    Civil, respectful, and civic-minded (however wrong-headed): society must punish its violent criminals, and in some cases, justice may only be had by repaying a murder in kind.
    Shockingly morbid: to sate Justice’s bloody hunger, sometimes we have to kill just hundreds of people, and it’s awesome.

    What I’m getting at is language. matters, and can change an abstract sentiment from something positive to something negative. The tea party is just one long running proof that you guys don’t really get that.

    1. Perry has been very clear from day one that he is going to run a very blunt campaign. He believes that window dressing on policy positions prevents honest debate. So IMO, even if I don’t agree with him (I am opposed to the death penalty, for example) it may be that the public could use a dose of that. I know more than a few blue-collar Democrats who would have applauded that exact same statement from the Democratic governor of my state.

      Obama is very good with lofty rhetoric that obscures the realities of policy positions. Perry is betting the public is tired of that. He may just be right.

    2. So, to be clear, you see nothing wrong, impolite, or sadistic in applauding the fact that 234 people have died.

      1. No – as a death penalty opponent I find the applause distasteful. But I would also find appluase after the President stating a pro-choice position to be distasteful.

        Applause after killing Bin Laden? Totally okay.

      2. I see nothing wrong with it. Bad things that happen to bad people are good things.

      3. And of course I don’t believe human life is something that in the abstract merits respect in the first place. It’s entirely a matter of the details. Death in any quantity can be either a tragedy or a cause for celebration based on those details.

        1. I’m not opposed to the death penalty in theory. For example, Timothy McVeigh. He confessed. Execute him. I’ll even applaud.

          As it stands though, I see just enough people getting sentences overturned these days thanks to new technologies to make me think the justice system is too imperfect to use the death penalty with no reservations.

          1. Deliberately refusing to adequately punish the rightly-convicted is not a solution for wrongful conviction. It is, however, a grave injustice. And, I suspect, prevents actual measures to reduce wrongful conviction.

            1. I guess it depends on a couple of things:

              – Do you believe the death penalty is a deterent?

              – Do you believe it is worse than life in prison (or my dream scenario of life doing hard labor on a chain gang)?

          2. I agree with Mike!

            On the faults of capital punishment, anyways. According to reports, Perry was not concerned that there was exculpatory evidence exonerating Cameron Willingham and refused to review the facts to see if there was reason to stay the execution.

            1. I’m not saying Perry refusing to review the facts was appropriate. I’m saying the possibility – even the guarantee – that Cameron Willingham was innocent doesn’t excuse a policy that dictates non-execution of the thousands of convicts who aren’t innocent.

  5. As an example:

    The difference between Hank Hill’s dad, and your average veteran who’s proud of serving his country, is the difference between someone with a decent respect for life and last night’s audience.

  6. Criminals have more constitutional rights than fetuses. Makes sense – they’re actually people.

    1. Kris – you’ve already stated your fondness for abortion.

  7. See, Mike, there you go again. We’re not “fond” of abortion.

    Also, it’s sad that you can’t divorce your distaste for the applause moment from your distaste for capital punishment. This moment from the debate strikes me as fundamentally inhuman, to all persons of conscience.

    1. Kris is – he has said so.

      If I think killing something is good, why would I be offended by applause? Applause is a symbol of approval, right? If he said that he killed 15 birds in an epic dove shoot the previous weekend I would applaud that. When the President announced our military had killed Bin Laden I applauded.

  8. Osama is sui generis. A better example, removing the distortive effects of notoriety, might be this:

    Killed three men, all identified as Iraqi insurgents, died in a battle earlier today.

    I’m no fan of the insurgency. But, do you applaud that?

    1. No, because I understand their motivations (i.e. they see us as invaders).

      Killed three members of Al Qaeda – yeah, I applaud. My point is that it’s all a matter of perspective. For people that are pro-death penalty they see the deaths of those people as just as good as the death of a terrorist.

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